We are pleased to once again welcome Certified Sex Addiction Therapist Becky Whitson to the Route1520 blog! Becky and her husband, Jim, have been ministering to couples who have been touched by sex addiction for years and we are excited to have her share her personal and professional wisdom with spouses who are grasping for answers in the middle of the chaos. Becky’s contact information is listed at the end of this post.
Disclosure reminds me of the myth of the Phoenix. The Phoenix is a bird that builds its nest, then bursts into flames, collapses into ashes, and then is reborn from the ashes, a new creature. Disclosure is tortuous, but necessary. The old relationship crashes and burns so that a new, healthy spiritual relationship can be born from the ashes.
No one would walk into the fire unless he thought it would be absolutely necessary to his healing. Research indicates that full disclosure is a cornerstone for healing to take place for the addict, the spouse, and the relationship.
For the addict, getting everything out in the open is critical to healing. A saying from AA is “we’re only as sick as our secrets.” Keeping a secret allows a seed to remain from which the addiction can sprout again. For the addict, disclosure brings relief, an end to denial and secrecy, and the doorway to recovery. It is like carrying a heavy load and finally being able to get rid of it. Along with the good, the addict experiences great shame at what he has done and caused; it is like looking death in the face, for it risks the end of the relationship. The immediate results of disclosure are different for addicts than for spouses.
For the spouse, disclosure does not bring relief, but great pain. It is like she is behind a dump truck and thousands of pounds of concrete are being dumped on top of her. She is stunned, shocked, hurt, and angry. She feels as if she doesn’t know the person who has chosen to hit her with this load. She is left to wonder how someone to whom she has given her life can treat her with such carelessness and disrespect. She doesn’t think she can get over such a huge betrayal. She most often experiences symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—numbness, intrusive images, shakiness, nausea, shifting moods, inability to concentrate or to sleep. Yet, along with the bad comes good. Most often, she has been taught by the addict to deny her own reality, to feel crazy. Disclosure allows her to make sense of her past, confirm her suspicions, validate her own reality, and become empowered to take care of herself. Through the pain of the process, she is reborn a more solid individual.
The best way for disclosure to take place is to plan for it. Couples often come to therapy with the betrayed knowing some, but not all. It is important to work with each person independently to identify the parts of disclosure needed for healing and not harm. The betrayed normally wants to “know it all.” Knowing the details of the acting out is not in the best interest of the spouse. The partner who has all the details in her head may obsess over them, causing herself great pain. She makes “a bed in her head” for all the images, and they intrude as they wish, unbidden. Knowledge seems as if it will provide control, but there is no way for her to control the acting out of the addict. That is his job, and he must take charge of it. The spouse is assisted in developing guidelines about what she wants to know. She is encouraged to write down questions and information that she needs. The therapist works with her to make sure she has someone to turn to after the disclosure. She needs an appointment set up with the therapist to process the painful feelings and she needs to have a support system in place.
The addict is strongly encouraged to provide a full disclosure early on. When disclosure is not complete, eventually the details come out. When this happens, it totally destroys any trust that has been created. It is like starting all over. The more time that passes before disclosure, the more trauma it creates. It is best, once therapy is started, to do a full disclosure with a month or two. The addict needs to remember that statistically, over half of the partners threaten to divorce, but in actuality fewer than a quarter of that number actually do.
To do a full, formal disclosure that will provide healing, the addict follows a protocol set out by a CSAT (Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist). Beforehand, the addict does a timeline of his acting out behaviors. It is important that he take full responsibility for his acting out and does not blame anyone else. In the timeline, he includes the sexual activity; for example, strip clubs, oral sex, intercourse, phone sex, etc. Details of the sexual acts are omitted. He also includes an estimate of the amount of money he spent. He estimates the amount of time he spent on looking for, acting out, and recovering from his behavior. An important part of disclosure is admitting how he has been dishonest, how he manipulated and used his partner. He acknowledges making her feel crazy and making her feel she was to blame. If he has been dishonest about taking money for himself and letting the family do without, if he has put his job at risk, or if he has put the children at risk, he acknowledges this also. If he has been abusive with anger or words, he admits that and takes responsibility. He takes responsibility for how his emotions, words, and actions have affected others. If he has acted out with someone the spouse knows and would be associating with, he acknowledges that. At the end of disclosure, he states that only he is responsible for his behavior, and that he is sorry for how his actions have affected his family. Before this disclosure is read to the spouse, he should go over this disclosure with the therapist to make sure he is using language to show that he is taking responsibility and that he is not minimizing the acting out. After he reads his disclosure, the spouse is asked if she has any questions, or if she would like to wait for another session so that she can get over the shock, process this, and ask questions later.
The key to the success of this process is the addict’s ability to take full responsibility for his behavior, acknowledge the partner has every right to be angry, and say he is wrong and that he is sorry.
Becky Whitson is a Licensed Professional Counselor with an extensive background in education and training. Prior to joining Covenant Counseling & Education Center, Becky worked as a career consultant and presenter. She holds an Ed.S. in Education and a Master’s Degree in counseling. Additionally, she is a certified sexual addiction therapist (CSAT). Her counseling interests include depression, anxiety, infidelity, sexual abuse, sexual addiction, trauma treatment and personal growth.
She is a level ll EMDR therapist. EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is used in treating trauma, phobias and self-defeating behaviors. EMDR uses back and forth eye movements similar to those occurring naturally in REM sleep. It appears to take advantage of a natural healing process of the brain. Research studies have consistently shown positive results.
If you would like to contact Becky, please email her at email@example.com.